Guy Bloom explores management and leadership and how to get the right balance.
There is an old Irish saying that goes, “I hope you are born in interesting times”, and my goodness we are.
There has never been a time where the need for genuine leadership has been more apparent. Frankly, there are huge gaps in the capability, competence and courage required in our leaders.
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An obsession with output, applause and recognition has created an environment that pays lip service to duty of care, behaviours, people and accountability.
These days, it feels like we are rolling from one corporate giant shattering our trust, to the next. Take Volkswagen, a global brand previously synonymous with quality and integrity, currently in crisis over software used to falsify diesel engine emission test data.
With the world’s media focused on the organisation, CEO, Martin Winterkorn came under instant scrutiny and immediately resigned to send a clear signal to the public that he (and therefore VW) recognised the need to rebuild trust and confidence in the organisation, and this had to start at the top.
Against a backdrop of scandals around banking, people in positions of trust and public office involved in questionable activities, highly visible celebrities parading their wealth and opportunity, we are living through an era with a shaky moral compass.
There are, of course, stories of wonderment, humanity and real care, often occurring at a local level that restore our faith in the decency of our fellow citizens.
Leadership in ‘wicked times’ deals with the new realisation that, frankly, you cannot always trust the business you work for to care about you. While there may be mutual trust and care between some colleagues, if the business isn’t doing so well, how confident can you be that the company will look after you through the tough times?
Wicked times involve complex, messy and often intractable challenges that can rarely be totally eliminated. On the one hand, we see great leadership in people who are humble, inspiring and of service to their team.
On the other, many are overcome by an overwhelming sense of momentum generated by the commercial machine they serve. They are at a loss as to how to be anything more than – as one leader put it to me – a ‘taskmaster with a smile’.
Leaders are uniquely placed to enable the people around them to thrive, develop and innovate. It’s about revealing the self-leadership that is right there in all of us – we do it all the time but often don’t recognise our personal activities for what they are.
So when people look to us as positional leaders to lead the business and the people within it, our behaviour should respect that belief and be evident in our demonstration of capability and competence. What we’ve found is that this is precisely the space where courage, integrity and accountability become a leadership signature.
Leadership and management are inextricably linked and achieving a constant balance between the tandem efforts is the true test of leadership. The tricky bit is handling the competing demands on leadership time and constant flux in what is required to balance task output versus people care.
It all sits on the back of the changing leadership landscape. When we look at people, business, culture and society, the following quickly becomes clear:
A job for life is a concept consigned to the past; people are motivated by vastly different things; there is a lack of trust in leaders (People).
Resources are constantly squeezed; yet value expectations increase (Business)
There is dislocation between leaders, culture, customer and the service they provide. In some cases, there is a sense of disbelief that leaders genuinely care about customers (Culture)
A greater desire for purpose means people want to believe their company, and the work they do, has deeper meaning; there is more social value in society in today’s world; people are searching for connection (Society).
An intellectual leap is required when it comes to leadership in the current climate. Leaders have to understand that the increased role responsibility that comes with position is a role expectation and not a leadership behaviour or a hierarchical entitlement.
On balance, you’ll see humanity, society and commerciality revealed in enthusing and developing people to contribute discretionary effort, engage with strategic goals and putting energy into overcoming hurdles through effort, insight and innovation.
It’s about realising that where you are on the organisational chart has more to do with role responsibility rather than leadership behaviour. After all, if we believe we are all leaders in our own role, where we sit, and what we do is irrelevant.
The Blue Sky leader manager wheel is at the core of our leadership proposition. When a business, or an individual within that business get the leader/manager balance right then the tenets of autonomy, mastery and purpose (reference: Dan Pink) have their promised effect in nurturing, developing and enthusing people in support of business purpose.
In truth, the courageous step for business lies in how prepared they are to look in the mirror and deal with what is reflected there. Creating an environment with a viral feel, attracting people to the culture, engaging those already there and expelling those unwilling to develop is the real job to be done.
It is a willingness to balance behaviour with competence and to value them both while having the agility to know when you need more of one and less of the other. It can lead to difficult decisions, but if you really do want a high performing leader-manager team, then it’s time to ‘put your big boy pants on.’
There are very few organisations that are truly prepared to make the effort and create the time required to operate in this space. Ask yourself, ‘How much do I really want to change? How real do I want our organisation to be? What are the benefits we’ll see? In our experience, people typically, and genuinely, answer with a resounding ‘Of course it’s what I want.’
So…. the next part of the conversation is about how real you are going to be in addressing, challenging and changing the behaviours contributing to your current organisational culture and climate. I know, that you know, that it starts at the top.
The most effective approach to leadership is to equip people with the competence, skill, integrity and character to become leaders of their own path and align this with what the business needs. In its purest form, leadership is a position of equality, where senior leaders have positional power to carry corporate decisions and need to do so with high curiosity and command of contribution.
It is not an easy option, it actually requires superior levels of performance. It is thought leadership in wicked times.
About the author
Guy Bloom is director of leadership at Blue Sky Performance Improvement. You can email at: firstname.lastname@example.org